After we leaked the story of the secret Marathon GMO mosquito lab, Oxitec’s public relations firm held a tour for selected media representatives. All were allowed to shoot video and interview Derric Nimmo, the product manager. You may remember that we attended the event in protest and demanded our own tour, which we were promised. Today, the PR firm told us that video and photos wouldn’t be allowed during the tour.
It seems that Oxitec worked hard to keep quiet about the GMO mosquito lab. Certainly, most citizens of the Keys weren’t aware that the lab had already been built, even though citizens have not voted to approve GMO mosquitoes here. Just days after Never Again broke the story, the lab was suddenly on tour for the media!
When we attended the tour uninvited, we were met by Hill+Knowlton Vice President Marcia Austin. It’s surprising that the company would feel the need to send such a high-powered representative to meet with three private citizens. The company is America’s oldest public relations firm and famous for representing Big Tobacco, Saudi Aramco, and the Nuclear Energy Institute. Marcia promised our group the same tour and video access to Nimmo offered to the mainstream media.
Today, we received the following letter from Hill+Knowlton. It offers a tour, but without the ability to take photos or record video.
Thank you for your continued interest in the Oxitec technology. In the spirt [sic] of inclusive communications, we invited representatives from different media outlets to the media availability in August and we would like to use a similar approach now. We have decided to invite several individuals from the general public to tour the lab at the same time as your organization. The lab itself is quite small so the maximum number of tour participants is six. You are welcome to select three from your organization and we will invite three individuals from other organizations in Monroe County. We think the differing interests of the public participants will create a robust, but balanced exchange. And we look forward to it.
Because the space is small and none of the invited individuals are professional journalists, we are asking participants NOT to bring cameras or recording devices on the tour. Derric Nimmo will be back in the Keys a good deal during October and we will do our best to give you several options for dates/times very soon.
— Marcia Austin, Oxitec PR Representative [emphasis ours]
With over 290,000 post reach this month, it’s hard to imagine that we don’t qualify as journalists. This seems like another way to keep the public from hearing the full, unedited video from a question and answer session with Nimmo.
The Never Again Facebook page is journalism that reaches over 290,000 people per month.
If the company is truly interested in open engagement, it should allow the same access to us as it allowed to other media outlets. Let’s let the public see what that lab looks like and, more importantly, answer some pointed questions from Derric Nimmo.